Carmelo Anthony sees the Knicks as a 50-win team that competes for the Eastern Conference title.
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Amare Stoudemire believes there is similar potential, viewing New York as a rising team after so many years of dormancy.
There’s still building to be done. Though nobody knows for sure who will be doing it, the two All-Stars know of a couple of guys willing – maybe expecting – to help: themselves.
A day after New York’s best season in a decade ended with a first-round sweep, Anthony and Stoudemire both said they’ll seek input in putting together the pieces around them that are missing.
”I’m pretty sure this offseason there will be a lot of talk, a lot of communication, I hope it is, with me and the front office, with Amare and the front office,” Anthony said Monday. ”As being the faces of this organization, we want to do everything we have to do, look at some pieces out there that we need to add.”
Anthony, who has been here only since his acquisition from Denver in a blockbuster trade in February, was asked if that meant he should have a role in personnel matters.
”Yeah, I mean, why not? I mean, I’m going to be the guy they’re going to have to go out there and play with. So why not have some input with who we want?” Anthony said.
The official decision makers are team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni, neither of whom met with reporters Monday. In just three seasons, Walsh turned a team that overspent and underachieved into what Stoudemire and Anthony believe is now a desired destination among NBA players. Yet Walsh’s future is unclear. Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan has until the end of this month to pick up the option on his contract for next season, otherwise it expires June 30.
Whatever happens could have an impact on D’Antoni’s future. He has another year left on his deal, but a coach is often tied in with the general manager. D’Antoni took some criticism after the Knicks were out-executed in the final seconds by the Celtics with chances to win Games 1 and 2 in Boston.
Stoudemire said both Walsh and D’Antoni should be back next season.
”Absolutely. Donnie has done a phenomenal job. He’s one of the main reasons why I’m here in New York and how we have turned the Knicks franchise around,” Stoudemire said. ”And coach D’Antoni is the reason why we have a winning record and had a chance to do something special in the playoffs if it wasn’t for a few injuries. So I definitely think that both of those guys will be back for next season.”
The Knicks also face a decision on Chauncey Billups, who came with Anthony from Denver but battled injuries in New York, including a strained left knee that forced him to miss the final three games of the playoffs. He played well when healthy and players would like him back, but the Knicks would be forced to pay only $3.7 million, instead of next season’s $14 million, if they waive him by Friday.
”We’ll all know shortly, but I’m hoping to be back, I want to be back,” Billups said. ”I loved being a Knick this year, it was a great time. I would love to be a part of bringing championship-caliber basketball back to the city, and hopefully I’ll have that opportunity.”
Stoudemire immediately set the bar high for a team that had endured a franchise-worst nine straight losing seasons when he signed last summer. He quickly became the player and leader the Knicks lacked, and expectations soared even more when Anthony joined him in the frontcourt.
But the rest of the roster was woefully thin and easily exposed by the veteran Celtics, especially with Stoudemire limited by a pulled muscle in his back the final three games. The trade essentially had no impact on the Knicks, who believe the real results will be shown next season after a few moves this summer.
”It’s going to be a total team effort between Carmelo, myself, and Mr. Walsh and coach D’Antoni,” Stoudemire said. ”I’m pretty sure we will all have some input on how we can better make the team.”
Stoudemire and Billups said New York needs some interior size and strength, but there are plenty more tweaks the roster could use.
”Our goal is to always be in the 50-plus win range, especially when we’re going to have a whole full year with each other,” Anthony said. ”We’ll have a chance to hopefully have a training camp, a chance to jell, correct some things, and who knows, we might get some players in here, we might not. But we still have a chance to do some things. My radar, I want to be the top team in the East next year.”
There’s still a long way to go. The Knicks were 42-40 and still haven’t won a playoff game since 2001.
”The time is near,” Stoudemire said. ”We’re close. I can feel it, the franchise can feel it, and I think the city can feel it that we are on the right track to ultimately winning a championship.”